Category Archives: Rocky Mountain Goat News

Passing Through: a hodgepodge of seniors

Valemount sees its fair share of transient people.  Contractors from different industries who live in nearby communities, international tourists, Canadians making a ritualistic cross-country trek, cyclists, bikers—people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe it seems.  In this column The Goat presents a sketch of our short-term guests, observed and written by a transient himself—RMG intern Thomas Rohner. 

 

“All you see on public transit are students and old people, we’re the ones that can’t afford to drive,” an older lady, in her 60s, said to the bartender as she was paying her bill. She was part of a group of three ladies passing through the Valley, all seniors. It was impossible not to think of the movie Steel Magnolias watching these three women.

The one who spoke was the bumbling, good-natured sort. She had accidentally sent her fork flying across the patio, and her steak knife clattering onto the cobblestones during dinner, giggling at every turn. She fumbled and dropped change while paying her bill.

One of the ladies she was with—the only one wearing makeup—was the first to enter the bar and had said to the bartender, “I’ll have a glass of wine please. I’d like to be inebriated.” The other two ladies deserted her after their meal. When she was by herself, this lady said to the bartender, “I’d like you to pour yourself a glass of wine now and sit with me on the patio. I’d like some intelligent conversation, please.”

The third lady seemed to be the prudent and responsible one among the three. “I”ll come and wake you up tomorrow, Clair. We have to be on the road bright and early,” she had said to the sweet and bumbling lady during dinner. The three ladies were traveling from Edmonton to an acreage outside Kelowna for a three-week getaway. From the sounds of conversation over dinner, they were on a shoe-string budget.

When the one lady, wearing the make-up and fond of wine, came in to pay her bill, she fumbled for her glasses and with her wallet looking for money.  “I can’t count right now, you make me kind of dizzy,” she said to the bartender. “How lucky for you, you get to schmooze with people all day.”

**

An older man, with a faint Irish accent, sat at the bar talking to the bartender. He was on a business trip, from Edmonton-area to Prince George, and had taken his wife and their grandson along.

“Man, he’s a weird kid,” the man said to the bartender. “All he wants to do is play on his phone or iPad. Look around you, I say, it’s beautiful out here. We went to the pool, and he wasn’t having any fun there either. He couldn’t wait to leave to get back to his games. Now he just wants to sit by himself and eat. Pizza bread, that’s all he wants. What a weird kid. I can’t get through to him. He makes me nervous.”

He told the bartender of immigrating from Ireland four or five decades ago, of his struggles to find work, and his eventual settling near Edmonton. He recalled his days in Ireland working as a bartender.

“I used to work weddings at our local club, working until early in the morning. I was young then, maybe 18 or 19. But finally one day my mother had enough. I’d come home, inebriated, guests feeding me drinks, and fell asleep with my leg draped out the window. I could’ve fallen out of that window, my mother said, and she boxed me on the ear. Ha! Ha! That was the end of that job. I could’ve fallen out that window, it’s true.”

**

A white-haired couple sat with a woman, presumably their daughter in her late 30s. They were travelling from Alberta to Kamloops. They had just sold their acreage where they had raised their family and lived for the past thirty years.

“Just this morning we sold it,” the older lady said to the bartender. “It’s gone, just like that, we sold it.” She laughed nervously but with bright eyes.

“We had a few head of cattle, a few crops,” the man explained to the barkeep.

“But they were nice people we sold it to, weren’t they? A nice young family.”

“And now we’re going to live in Kamloops.”

“If we like it,” the wife reminded her husband. “We’ll spend a few months there, and if we don’t like it, we can always go back home.”

I wondered what she meant, since their acreage had already been sold. But it amazed me that this couple, in their 60s or 70s, were willing to relocate, to begin a whole new experience at this stage of their lives.

“Ya, if we don’t like it, we’ll go back,” the husband said.

Medicinal marijuana users suffer social stigma, despite new regs

The federal government introduced new regulations on medicinal marijuana last month, but local users still complain of social judgment and stigma.

While researching last week’s story on the new medicinal marijuana regulations, The Goat contacted more than a dozen local users and growers. Four were willing to speak on the issue, but nobody was willing to speak on the record. Even those legally permitted to possess or grow medical marijuana refused to speak on the record.

Pot taboo? or Pot-a-boo!

 Marijuana confiscated by Valemount RCMP in October 2012 after an effort to crack down on drug runners through the Robson Valley. One local contacted for this story who has a license to grow medical cannabis complained of being “harassed” by RCMP. Photo: Laura Keil

Marijuana confiscated by Valemount RCMP in October 2012 after an effort to crack down on drug runners through the Robson Valley. One local contacted for this story who has a license to grow medical cannabis complained of being “harassed” by RCMP. Photo: Laura Keil

One local said they feared being targeted for break-ins by those looking for marijuana, a fear created by the black market. But this local was also wary of social stigma.

“Some people think, ‘Oh, he’s just a pothead getting a free ride.’ And that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

This local suffers from debilitating back pain, and medicinal cannabis is the best medication he’s found to alleviate the pain without inducing a host of side effects.

Another local who lives close to a grow-op and dislikes the odour, feared being judged by friends who wouldn’t agree with her opinion that marijuana should not be grown at home.

“It’s a touchy subject for a lot of people, and I don’t want to offend anybody.”

Another comment by this local points to a stubborn social stigma: “Where I come from, it’s people who are lower class that use weed.”

Don Skogstad, a criminal prosecutor in Nelson, says the taboo around medicinal use of marijuana has resulted in ridiculously strict rules about where and when it can be consumed.

“If you look at the rules in US states where it’s been legalized, you can drink in a lot of places, but you cannot consume marijuana anywhere in public view.”

Skogstad said he recently gave a lecture on medicinal marijuana at the University of Toronto, but that the university didn’t want “medical marijuana” and “the University of Toronto” to appear in the same ad.

“And yet it’s a perfectly legal, viable, court-ordered constitutional right.”

Skogstad pointed to a number of documentaries that suggest marijuana was treated with a racist paranoia in the early 20th century, targeting minorities more than dealing with the scientific aspects of the drug.

“And that persists today, that it’s a really bad thing, when in fact it’s got genuine, proven, medical benefits.”

Medicinal value still questioned

“You’ve got Health Canada claiming it’s not a therapeutic treatment, and then you have them asking doctors to prescribe it. They’re asking doctors to prescribe a substance illegal in any other context.” -BC Compassion Club Society.  Photo: Thomas Rohner
“You’ve got Health Canada claiming it’s not a therapeutic treatment, and then you have them asking doctors to prescribe it. They’re asking doctors to prescribe a substance illegal in any other context.” -BC Compassion Club Society. Photo: Thomas Rohner

But the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons does not acknowledge any proven medical benefits. A letter in their College Quarterly publication this past March, written by CEO Heidi Oetter, said “in the absence of scientific evidence, many physicians have been reluctant to authorize its use.” Oetter wrote that the medical community acknowledges possible relief to those suffering from a terminal illness or chronic pain “when conventional therapies cease to have an effect.”

This point is untrue, however, to patients who choose cannabis instead of “conventional therapies”. The local suffering from chronic back pain, for example, says that while he used narcotics prescribed by his doctor, he experienced a series of complications including appetite and sleep problems.

“You can’t take narcotics every day of your life. Otherwise you’re just not you.”

Dr. Paul Hornby, a pathologist from the Vancouver area, has been studying cannabis for 15 years, focusing on its applications for cancer patients for the past six years. He says there’s “tonnes of scientific evidence” on cannabis’ medicinal applications. He says the power of the pharmaceutical industry and their lobbying efforts prevent cannabis from being recognized for its medicinal use.

“As a medicine, there’s no way the pharmaceutical industry can afford to have [cannabis] legal because they’ll lose their analgesic market, they’ll lose their anti-depressant market, and they can’t have that.”

Oetter’s letter says, “If and when appropriate research is conducted, physicians may eventually have accurate information in the form of a clinical practice guideline on the use of marijuana.” But Hornby points out that to develop a clinical guideline, clinical trials have to be run and “we’re not allowed to right now because there’s no licensing for that.”

Jamie Shaw, communications director for the BC Compassion Club Society, calls the letter by Oetter “ridiculous” but acknowledges the difficult position the new regulations put doctors in. She points to the preamble of the new rules which says that nowhere in the world is cannabis acknowledged as a therapeutic remedy.

“You’ve got Health Canada claiming it’s not a therapeutic treatment, and then you have them asking doctors to prescribe it. They’re asking doctors to prescribe a substance illegal in any other context.”

In her letter, Oetter wrote, “It is irresponsible of Health Canada to download the risks, legal and otherwise, to physicians as gatekeepers to marijuana.” Oetter did not respond to an interview request by press time.

Despite the College’s stance on medical cannabis, doctors and nurses can dispense the drug directly to patients under the new regulations.  But as the licensing and regulatory body for all physicians and surgeons in BC they have considerable influence. At least one doctor local to the Valley cited this letter as his basis for refusing to prescribe medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, taboos persist
Shaw says that patients who come to the BCCCS wellness centre often don’t realize the social stigma they’re under until talking to somebody without being judged.

“It’s a huge relief, but they didn’t know anything different.”

Shaw says many patients have medical conditions that already have a stigma attached, like HIV or mental health issues. And many can’t even tell their neighbours or family about their use.

“Their families can’t figure out why they’re doing better. They’re happy they’re doing better, but the patients can’t tell their families a lot of times.”

As long as the social stigma persists, patients using medical marijuana are unlikely to lobby for their constitutional right to the medication.

New rules won’t improve community safety, lawyer says

 “A lot of this is based on the same old emotional, gut-reaction, stigma stuff of reefer madness…” -John Conroy, criminal prosecutor. Photo: Thomas Rohner

“A lot of this is based on the same old emotional, gut-reaction, stigma stuff of reefer madness…” -John Conroy, criminal prosecutor. Photo: Thomas Rohner

Every press release issued by Health Canada on the new medicinal marijuana regulations last month said that Canadian communities would be safer as a result of the new regulations, but none of them said how or why that was the case.

Presumably, the government is implicitly referring to the same-old fears associated with cannabis grow-ops: fire and mould risks and drug-related violence.  But the reality, according to experts, does not support these implied fears nor the government’s assertion that communities will be safer.

John Conroy, a criminal lawyer who has dealt with marijuana cases for 40 years, says he’s talked to a lot of lawyers in different BC municipalities who admit there hasn’t been a single fire from a medical grow-op yet, let alone a death from a fire, but they fear being the first municipality to have either.

“Statistics show that most house fires are in kitchens, and we’re not about to take kitchens out of people’s homes.”

Conroy said if grow-ops were properly inspected and permitted, mould wouldn’t be any more of a risk “than a person with a lot of house plants.” And he doubts the new rules will make Canadian communities safer since it’s the prohibition of the drug that creates the circumstances for violence.

“If you can’t go to the police when you’re ripped off, when you can’t resort to peaceful remedies, presumably you resort to violent remedies. We’ve known that since booze prohibition in the early days of the 20th century.”

As for young people, Conroy says it’s easier for them to access a drug on the black market than on a regulated market.

“The content of the drug is regulated then too, so you don’t have people dying from other stuff put into the drugs. That wouldn’t happen if the stuff was under control. It’s out of control because of prohibition.”

Last year the federal government brought in mandatory minimums for illegal grow-ops. The sentences range from 6 months for five plants up to two years for 500 plants. Conroy says organized crime will just get someone willing to carry out the jail sentence, while “mom and pop” operations will disappear.

“So the effect of mandatory minimums is that they squeeze the market and push the price up. When things on the black market become worth more, people shoot each other more because there’s a greater value when they get ripped off.”

Conroy said the regulations introduced in 2001 created a glut in the black market, mostly because many designate growers are growing beyond their allotment and selling it “out the back door”. The glut has driven black market prices down and subsequently reduced violence, but the government hasn’t acknowledged that, he said. Instead they’ve created regulations based on the exaggerated fear of gang-violence.

“A lot of this is based on the same old emotional, gut-reaction, stigma stuff of reefer madness, exacerbated by people thinking the drug war is still so bad that someone’s going to get shot in the crossfire because of a grow-op at the end of your street.”

Under the new regulations, private individuals can no longer grow in residential areas. Instead Licensed Commercial Producers will operate secure facilities.

Click HERE to read The Goat’s story on the new medicinal marijuana regulations.

New medicinal marijuana regulations will quadruple cost for some users

Marihuana for Medical Purposes, MMPR, Medicinal marihuana access program, medicinal marihuana access regulations, MMAR, MMAP, Conservative Party of Canada, legalize marijuana, decriminalize marijuana
doctors and nurses can dispense the drug directly under the new regulations

Home grown medical marijuana will be a thing of the past under new regulations ushered in by the federal government last month.

The Marihuana For Medical Purposes Regulations came into effect last month replacing Health Canada’s Marihuana for Medical Purposes Program introduced in 2001, but both regimes will be used until April 1, 2014, to allow for a transition. “Marihuana” is how the government spells the drug in its legislation.

According to a press release on Health Canada’s website, the new regulations aim “to treat marihuana as much as possible like any other narcotic used for medical purposes” and to create “conditions for a new, commercial industry responsible for its production and distribution”.

The rules allowing medicinal cannabis to be grown in private dwellings will expire March 31, 2014, replaced by “Licensed Commercial Producers.” The Licensed Producers will operate secure facilities outside of residential areas and courier their product to users and health practitioners. Health Canada will also end its own production and distribution next March.
With the new rules patients will no longer have to apply to Health Canada directly because doctors and nurses can fill out an abbreviated application form. Patients then show this form to Licensed Producers or obtain dried marijuana from doctors or nurses, who are now allowed to dispense the drug directly.
Health Canada currently distributes medical marijuana for a subsidized price of $5/g, according to a cost-benefit analysis it released in December, 2012. The analysis estimates the cost of homegrown cannabis at $1.80/g-$2.80/g. The estimated cost under the new system is $8.80/g, plus shipping, but the market will ultimately set prices. That’s more than a four-fold increase for users who grow themselves.

Reaction to Regs

The BC Compassion Club Society was quick to respond to the new regulations. The Society distributes marijuana to medical users only. It does so illegally, but police have typically turned a blind eye.

The Society, which was consulted by the federal government in drafting the new rules, submitted a number of recommendations to Health Canada earlier this year. One recommendation was to keep personal grow licenses which drastically reduce the cost for patients, “many of whom are already burdened by extensive medical expenses” the Society wrote.
John Conroy, a BC criminal lawyer with 40 years experience in medicinal marijuana cases, said 60-70 per cent of people who apply for medical marijuana are poor.
Conroy is working on a constitutional challenge to the new rules. He says the new rules violate the constitutional rights of marijuana-using patients who will no longer be allowed to grow at home or buy from a home-growing supplier.

“If you have a contained unit, specially built and safe…if you’ve had it inspected and there’s some limits on numbers—instead of saying not at all—that would be reasonable.”

Those who complied with the old rules and invested in equipment and labour to produce their own cannabis are not being compensated under the new rules.

Conroy will challenge the restriction of medical marijuana to only the dried bud. The BC Supreme Court found the restriction unconstitutional last year and acknowledged the safe use of cannabis derivatives like salves and juice, which do not produce a “high.” The court gave the government one year to change the law. The government hasn’t complied.

Don Skogstad, a criminal lawyer in Nelson specializing in marijuana cases, says the continued limitation to cannabis derivatives is a deliberate oversight on the government’s part.

“The government claims that when [marijuana] is put into these derivatives, the THC is hidden. But I’m not aware of anybody who can get the THC back out of the derivative and use it for recreation any more. It’s an ideological decision.”

Jamie Shaw, director of communications for the BCCCS, says the limitation on dried marijuana is irrational and impractical.

“We have patients who are physically incapable of smoking.”

Shaw points out that patients in hospitals will be able to access the drug, but have no way of consuming it.

“You can’t bake it into cookies because you’re in a hospital, and you’re not allowed to smoke.”

Shaw, Skogstad and Conroy independently agreed the new rules don’t create an effective market structure. All three pointed to US dispensary models, where community-based centres can dispense the drug. Licensed Producers, on the other hand, will be limited to secure couriers and healthcare professionals willing to keep a stock. Skogstad points out that Licensed Producers will require a big capital investment and “without a dispensary or even just a pharmacy you could develop a relationship with, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your product to market.”

Skogstad also wonders if compassion clubs will survive the new regulations.

“If you’re [a Licensed Producer and] going to spend $2-million … are you not going to go to the government next April 1st and ask, ‘How do you allow these people to compete with me? How do you expect my business to grow?’”

Skogstad says for now tolerance by the local police force, usually non-RCMP, allow the clubs to operate.

The Valley RCMP detachment under Sgt. Darren Woroshelo couldn’t be reached for comment, despite multiple phone calls and over a week to respond.

Local Reaction

In addition to substantially raised costs, medicinal cannabis users in the Valley may have to travel further to access it.

Standard practise for shipping controlled substances via courier is to get a signature upon delivery. If nobody is there to sign, it gets sent to the closest terminal. Since Valley mail is delivered to post boxes, the closest terminal is either Kamloops or Prince George. Puralator, for example, doesn’t have an agent in the Valley qualified to hold packages of controlled substances. Their closest terminal is in Kamloops. Canada Post is the only local option for obtaining orders through secure courier.

The Goat interviewed a number of local users and growers, all of which requested to be anonymous citing concerns around possible thefts from their homes and fear of social stigma.

One Valley residents lives in the neighbourhood of a grow-op and is overwhelmed with the odour. The smell gets everywhere in her house and car.

“I don’t care if it’s legal or not, as long as it doesn’t affect me or my family.”

She’s been asking local government, along with some neighbours, to have a bylaw implemented.

Another local became a grower when his wife fell ill with terminal cancer in order to be her caregiver. After months of painkiller cocktails and liquid morphine, he started baking her cookies, which were more effective and improved her appetite. He suffers from MS but doesn’t experience enough pain to warrant medication. Should the time come though, he would turn to edible cannabis products.

“I wouldn’t buy any of the government controlled stuff, but good, strong home grown that works.”

A different local has been legally growing for about five years and said he’ll comply with the new rules, but doesn’t know what he’ll do for pain management. Compassion clubs are expensive and the government doesn’t know how to grow good product, he said.

“It’s trash. It may as well be ragweed from Mexico.”

Another local who uses medical marijuana legally for pain relief has switched from compassion clubs to Health Canada, which is subsidized up to 50 per cent. After March 31 he’ll have to find a Licensed Producer at a higher cost, however, and pay shipping fees.

He says going down the illegal route is not an option for him, out of consideration for his family.

Check next week’s Goat for a follow-up story on the social stigma surrounding users and how the government thinks the new regulations will make communities safer.

Sources

For BCCCS reaction to the new regulations, including recommendations, click here.

For Health Canada’s press releases on the new regulations, click here.

For Health Canada’s Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement, including a cost-benefit analysis, click here.

Passing Through: a man, a journey and a flood

Valemount sees its fair share of transient people.  Contractors from different industries who live in nearby communities, international tourists, Canadians making a ritualistic cross-country trek, cyclists, bikers—people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe it seems.  In this column The Goat presents a sketch of our short-term guests, observed and written by a transient himself—RMG intern Thomas Rohner. 

A man, a journey, and a flood

“The highway to Banff was closed, eh?  They wouldn’t let anybody through.”

A man, probably in his late 50s, sat at the bar drinking spiced rum. His leathery face and paunched nose suggested his health had seen better days. But he was amicable and his eyes betrayed a lively curiosity and interest in the world they perceived.

“And the Saddle Dome, well that’s ruined. All the way up to the 14th row was under water. They wanted to replace it already, it’s old, but now they’ve got no choice.”

Paul was travelling from Calgary to Vancouver to visit his son, a trip that just happened to coincide with the worst flooding Calgary has seen in decades.

“I don’t know what they’re gonna do about the Stampede. You know how much money they’re gonna lose? Billions probably. They have massive grounds, tents as big as this building I bet, and real western stars, cowboys, top stars come out. They’re gonna lose a ton of money.”

“I bought tickets,” he said, as an after thought. “Are they gonna refund my ticket if it’s cancelled?” passing through pic2

Our conversation was interrupted by another man roughly Paul’s age.  “He’s a happy fellow,” this new patron said, nodding towards Paul, then sauntered over to him and had a five minute conversation that began with the exclamation, “My name is Paul too!”

When our conversation resumed, I told him that I was interning at The Goat and in school for journalism.

“That’s something I bet I would’ve liked doing,” Paul said. “That’s something, if you like doing it, you can just do it forever, can’t you? If you’ve got your hunch, you just dig and dig to find your story, stick to your story. I can see a man being really happy doing that. A lot of sacrifices, I bet. But we need people like you to keep them straight and honest, because without that, without journalists hounding them, they won’t be.” I gathered Paul was referring to politicians and business moguls and anyone who’s accrued substantial power.

“Lookit all the stuff that’s come out in the States, about the phone taps and stuff. They know exactly what you’re doing, where you are, if you’re sitting at a computer, what you’re buying. I was listening to the radio just the other night, and they had this guy on who nailed it, who said it just right. Eventually they want to make it so that you can’t do nothing, buy a house or a car or get a job or anything, without having some chip scanned in your hand or your neck or some place.  And it’s already started, you bet.” Paul raised his eyebrows above the frame of his spectacles in incredulity.

“But that’s great, we need journalists to watch out for us like that. We need open-minded people, because they’re sure not open minded.”

Paul works as a security guard for an information database in Calgary, a building filled with servers with clients from all over the world.

“You wouldn’t believe the information in that building, it’s just a normal-looking building. My nephew, he’s a security guard in Toronto at a college, and you should’ve heard him when I told him how much money I make. He couldn’t believe it,” Paul chuckled.

Paul told me of another nephew of his, in his 40s. “He’s always in school, he’s in school now to learn some…systems…” Paul trailed off. “But he’s an artist…you know, well… no, ya, he’s an artist.” It seemed his nephew had struggled to have the right to be called an artist. “He spent time on Vancouver Island with the Natives, learning some of their crafts, he was really interested in that.”

Despite being delayed by the flood—“I could’ve sworn there was a turn off to Highway 1 around here,” Paul said—he planned to be in Vancouver the following night. “I’ll leave when I wake up, I guess.” He reached for yet another napkin and wetnap, finished with his plate of honey garlic wings. “These wings were great, but I hate sticky, icky things.”

Volunteer animal group’s funding request hijacked by Village administration

A partnership between the Village of Valemount and the Robson Valley Spay and Neuter Society (RVSNS) to tackle animal control has fallen through.

At the May 14 Council meeting Council decided not to continue to pursue a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the RVSNS or provide them with the $1,000 in financial assistance the Society requested.

Wendy Cinnamon, a founding member of the RVSNS, said in a phone interview that what the Village asked for in the original draft of the MOU was well beyond the scope of the Society and included bylaw enforcement. The Village cannot comment on any specifics relating to the decision because the negotiations were held in camera—closed to the public.

“I think there were just differing expectations,” Village Chief Administrative Officer Anne Yanciw said. “It was a mutual decision not to pursue this.”

The Society, a four-person organization, has been in existence since October 2012, and was initially created in response to a cat colony of about 80 cats living near the home of one of the founding members, Chris Dolbec. Since its inception the Society has helped deal with two cat colonies in the Tete Jaune area, have spayed or neutered cats whose owners can’t afford the vet bill, and, as of last week, have begun an initiative for dogs.

“We’ve done about 59 cats,” Cinnamon said, referring to the Society’s catch, fix and release program. “Right now, we’re limited as to how many cats and dogs we can do per week, so that’s what is holding us back at this point. We do have a list of people waiting.”

In December, the RVSNS requested $1,000 in funding for their volunteer initiative addressing the feline population. The Society was applying for an SPCA grant of $5,000, which the Society was required to match with their own fundraising efforts. They had already secured $1,500 from the Regional District, and planned to fundraise the remaining $2,500.

Before getting a response from the Village, the Society had the opportunity to help the Village with an impounded dog in early January. Dolbec was able to get the help of the SPCA in Kamloops, where she used to work, in finding a home for the dog.

The Society’s work with the impounded dog elicited glowing reviews from council and Village administration.

Village Deputy Corporate Officer Braden Hutchins presented a memo to Mayor and Council on January 22, entitled “Animal Bylaw Control Implementation.” Noting the time and money saved by partnering with the RVSNS, Hutchins wrote that creating an MOU with the Society was necessary “to ensure this partnership continues into the future.”

But from that point the negotiations took an unexpected turn, from the Society’s perspective.

“I don’t know how it morphed into the MOU,” Cinnamon said, “because my feedback was that council was supportive of helping us fund the feline initiative and it became something big and difficult.”

Cinnamon said the Village wanted the Society to be responsible for placing or euthanizing impounded animals that were surrendered or not claimed. Cinnamon said this was beyond their capacity– especially with just $1,000 coming from the Village to cover these costs. The Society doesn’t euthanize healthy animals either, Cinnamon said, unlike the
Village’s animal bylaw which says after 72 hours and “reasonable efforts” to find a home, an impounded animal can be euthanized.

But that wasn’t all the Village administration asked the Society to do for the $1,000 funding, according to Cinnamon.

“They also wanted us to step into the bylaw enforcement roll,” Cinnamon said, saying the Village wanted the Society to cite bylaws to residents. “And we’re not qualified to do that. We can educate people on what they should be doing … but we’re not bylaw officers…We just wanted to help with the cat population.

Cinnamon said helping the Village in January with the impounded dog was the result of a favour from the Kamloops SPCA—not something legally binding or consistent.

“They help us out when they can,” Cinnamon said of the SPCA.

The biggest factor in rejecting the village’s first proposal, however, was $2-million liability insurance the Village required the Society to purchase. Cinnamon said as a small new volunteer organization, they couldn’t afford to.

Hutchins could not be reached for comment; CAO Yanciw and Mayor McCracken were the spokespeople from Council and Village administration on this issue.

No bylaw officer

The Village made an effort to hire a bylaw enforcement officer earlier this year, even advertising outside of Valemount for the position. But with the limited resources the Village can allocate to bylaw enforcement, and the qualifications needed for a successful applicant, the Village “simply couldn’t find anyone who would be able to fill the position,” Yanciw said.

Mayor McCracken said the lack of a bylaw officer poses a number of nuanced challenges. The last bylaw enforcement officer didn’t catch any animals reported to the Village, he said.

“It’s not because he wasn’t doing his job; he was really trying to do the best he could. But you show up and the dog’s not there anymore.”

“So we’ve been working on a system, trying to do something smarter, using education.”

Yanciw said they are doing a trial period of bylaw enforcement without a bylaw officer, focusing instead on education.

“If education alone is not enough, then we’ll go back to council and look for a decision.”

Yanciw said she hopes the Village’s general Bylaw Enforcement Strategy, currently under development, will be ready by this fall.

Prof. Annie Booth, in the Ecosystems Management Science program at UNBC, has worked on municipal animal bylaw strategies and said that a combination of education and enforcement is “usually the only way to go.”

Prof. Booth says relying on education alone “relies on people wanting to do the right thing, and people do a lot of things even if they know they’re wrong.”
RVSNS  expands efforts

Prof. Booth said enforcing animal control laws is often dangerous, and SPCA officers get special training at the Justice Institute of BC. The former bylaw enforcement officer for the Village attended a 10-day course on bylaw enforcement at the Justice Institute. Special training was also part of the qualifications the Village was looking for in an attempt to fill the role earlier this year.

“There’s a lot of skill required,” Prof. Booth said, “To expect a volunteer to do that, if that’s the expectation the Village had of the Society, then I would agree … that would be an unreasonable request.”

Mayor McCracken could not comment on the in camera deliberations, but said, “The Robson Valley Spay and Neuter Society is doing excellent work, independently of us. Would it be better, in an ideal world, to do that work together? Yes. But ultimately, they’re free and they want to do it unencumbered by the Village so we support them.”

Cinnamon said the Society redrafted the original MOU with Hutchins to their satisfaction, but that Council voted to drop the potential partnership for reasons she is still unaware of; she was told a letter would be sent to the Society from the Village about the decision but hasn’t yet received it. In the meantime, the Society was able to fundraise the additional $1,000 to match the SPCA grant.

Mayor McCracken said that partnering with the Village is tough, especially for small organizations, because it inevitably involves a lot of paper work, rules and regulations.

“To a small organization that must feel like a total encumbrance, I totally understand that. But if we’re going to have a formal relationship with you, it has to have certain pieces.”

Passing through: a column of transients

Disclaimer: this sketch is a composite of a number of conversations. While I’ve endeavoured to replicate the conversations as faithfully as possible, any information contained within should be perceived as anecdotal, and not factual.

 

 

Contract workers, mostly from Alberta or BC, often stay in Valemount for weeks at a time, part of an environmental assessment team employed by some of the biggest companies in the country. I had the chance to interact with one such team recently, a group of about 15-20 people. There were a lot of Native men in the group, but also a few Caucasians and even some women. They would spend all day working outdoors, in the field, and then relax in the evenings, comfortably dining and drinking after a hard day’s work. A sense of self-contentment and good-natured ease defined this group.

 

“My day was great, it was better than great,” a youthful middle-aged man sitting at a bar says.

“I get to count birds and amphibians all day.  Man, it was beautiful. I love what I do, spending all day out in nature. Even if it rains a bit like today.”

“This pipeline, it’s not gonna follow the last one, you know. This time they’re being real careful. I helped lay down the last one too, but that one it was like a fish, eh, or a bird, or a cat, the path of least resistance, they just went straight ahead. But this time they’re being real careful, good to the environment.  We go out there and we find the birds, and if they’ve got a nest somewhere, well the pipeline will go around them, eh, these oil companies are being real careful now.

“I used to be on the other side, a real environmentalist, you know.  I studied biology, I loved nature, I even saved some creeks back home, eh. That’s where I like to stay, close to home, I never liked going too far from home.  I know these lands, so I used to be a real pain in their ass… but now, well, they figured I’m an ASS-et, eh, HA! HA! HA!

“You know I can see the whole thing now, the whole 360 degree perspective. What the oil companies tell you, what they don’t tell you, the leaks and accidents they don’t want nobody to find out about, and what the environmentalists say and fight for too.

 

“But with these companies, if you get hurt on the job, eh—I’ve been hurt on the job—they come to you real quiet, and they say, how do you want to do this? We want this to be kept real quiet, so they throw some money at you, and it’s a lot of money, and on paper it says you’ve clocked in and out though you’ve never been there. Man it’s a lot of money.  And you want to get back out onto the job, because that’s when you get the most money, especially if you get time and a half or double time. I’ve worked 17-hour shifts before, you know. And imagine being a teenager, right out of high school, you’ve never had to flip burgers or nothing, and they give you $36 an hour and say rake this gravel here, or something, of course you’re gonna do it.

“It’s so beautiful out there, and it’s so funny, if you think about it, what you’re doing it for, eh? It’s backwards and dirty, but man it’s a lot of money.  I paid off my house already, and three trucks. Ha! Ha!  I got two boys at home, one’s sixteen, and he just got his L license and he wants a truck of course.”

Smoking with another crew member later the same night, a chain smoker, older, wearing big wire-framed glasses, a gentle and passive demeanour:

“This one time we were building a pipe and we saw a squirrel that lived in this tree.  Right where the pipe was supposed to go. We didn’t know what we were supposed to do. So the men, they thought about it, and they said we should dig the whole tree up and just put it over there. That way the pipe could go straight.”

He chuckles and shakes his head from side to side.

“Do you think that’s crazy, or smart?” I asked.

“Well, for the animal, I guess it’s good. But I don’t know, I can’t say. I bet the squirrel knows.  But I don’t know.” He shrugs his shoulders like these things are beyond him.

Two Caucasian girls, members of the group, young, blond, pretty, with idealistic naivety, sweet, unassuming, innocent, constantly smiling, giggling; mostly they kept their distance from the rest of the team, and brought their work with them to the bar.  I imagine they were the greenwashers, giving the oil bonanza a gentle, human face, a white, smiling, superficial veneer, too sweet and unassuming to be reproached.  Environmental rehabilitators. Nature lovers.

 

Illustration by Katherine Beeson. Copy right Katherine Beeson.
Illustration by Katherine Beeson. Copy right Katherine Beeson.

Accident on accessibility ramp at Valemount Community Hall leaves two injured

The Village of Valemount is looking into making the accessibility ramp at the Community Hall safer after an accident on May 18 left two people injured.

“Since the incident our public works superintendent, building inspector and senior staff have been working to find a remedy for the steps and make the area safer,” Mayor McCracken wrote in an email statement to the Goat.

Bob Beeson, 98, had just arrived at a family birthday party and driven his scooter to the top of the ramp, when a wheel slipped off the narrow landing toppling him down the steep stairs, according to a number of witnesses.

“I had to go around the door because it wasn’t quite open,” Bob said. “The door should be open as far as it goes.”

Dorothy Wakelin said she was standing on the landing as Bob was trying to navigate around the partially-opened door, and saw his wheel slip off the landing. Instinctively, Wakelin grabbed the scooter to try to stop it from falling down the stairs.

“I knew the minute I grabbed on I had to let go,” Wakelin said. “I’m pregnant, and I’m going to seriously hurt myself, I thought.”

The scooter was turned by Wakelin’s effort, however, and instead of tumbling down backwards, slid on its side all the way down.

“It didn’t look like he hit his head at all going down the steps,” Wakelin said, “until the bottom, and that seemed like slow motion…It sounded horrible.” Wakelin said she saw Beeson close his eyes after hitting his head and feared the worst.

Beeson was taken to the McBride hospital and kept for 24 hours surveillance, said Kathy Beeson, Bob Beeson’s daughter.

“I got hurt all over, but I didn’t break a bone,” Bob Beeson said. He said he wanted to leave the hospital as soon as possible. “The doctors said as soon as you can walk, so I grabbed my cane and showed them I could walk, and back I come.”

“Mr. Beeson’s been in Valemount forever,” Wakelin said, “He’s an icon … it could have been completely worse. We were very fortunate.”

Wakelin herself sustained injuries from trying to prevent the scooter from going down the stairs, but thankfully not to her front side.

In letting go of the scooter, Wakelin lost her balance, fell down a few stairs and was pinched between the railing and the scooter. She still has bruising on her left leg and hip as well as her right arm. Ultrasounds confirmed that her baby was unharmed, but the incident has caused her a lot of stress, she said.

“The doctors have been more concerned about my mental state than the baby,” she said. “Stress for a pregnant woman is very unhealthy.”

Since the incident, Wakelin, who grew up in Valemount but now lives in Rainbow Lake, Alberta, has lead a crusade to draw attention to the dangerous landing atop the accessibility ramp.  Having worked for a municipal government for the past five years, she knows that documentation is the key to bringing about change, she said.

“If you have no documentation, there’s nothing to go back on. If that door had been opened all the way, Mr. Beeson wouldn’t have fallen, and who’s to say that hasn’t happened before?”

Wakelin said she has been in contact with Chief Administrative Officer of the Village, Anne Yanciw, and is writing a letter describing the incident. Wakelin was informed that once the Village receives the letter, they can use that in hopes of applying for an accessibility grant.

“Now that we are aware of this issue at the community hall, we will look for grants that allow us to remedy the area,” Mayor McCracken wrote in an email.

McCracken wrote that the long term solution involves rebuilding the steps and expanding the landing, which the Village is currently “trying to rationalize with their public works plan.” A short term solution, which the Mayor admits is “not great,” is to post signs of the hazard, though by press time no signs had been posted.

The construction of the ramp predates the current staff at the Village, Mayor McCracken wrote, so whether or not it complied with safety regulations at the time of construction is unknown.

“In terms of what is required for new buildings, it is certainly not up to code, and as demonstrated, it is simply not safe enough.”

In the meantime, the Mayor urges residents to be cautious using the ramp.

The outcome of the incident could have been far worse, Beeson and Wakelin admit, but both have escaped relatively unscathed. Beeson is happy to be out of the hospital and back on his scooter.

“That’s the end of the road for seniors, so I said get the hell out of here, I’m going home.”

Bob Beeson's scooter. He told me this was a custom-built deluxe scooter, capable of going 15km/h.
Bob Beeson’s scooter. He told me this was a custom-built deluxe scooter, capable of going 15km/h.

 

Investigative Feature: tar sands oil poised for west coast shipping, one way or another

DOT-111 tankers, like those pictured, are capable of carrying dangerous goods, according to Transportation Canada’s safety criteria, but transportation safety agency throughout North America admit to safety design flaws.
DOT-111 tankers, like those pictured, are capable of carrying dangerous goods, according to Transportation Canada’s safety criteria, but transportation safety agency throughout North America admit to safety design flaws.

Whether the much-maligned Northern Gateway or the controversial twinning of the Trans Mountain pipelines actually come to fruition or not, heavy crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta are poised to flow to the west coast, according to oil industry experts and negotiations involving rail companies.

Substantial opposition to pipeline projects in BC has proven to be a boon for rail companies, which have experienced exponential growth in transporting crude oil in recent years.  According to data compiled from Statistics Canada, the monthly average of rail cars loaded with fuel oils and crude petroleum in the Western Division of Canada increased by 88.6 per cent between 2011 and 2012, and increased an additional 49.2 per cent in the first two months of 2013.  Canadian Pacific Railway reported record first quarter results in 2013 , citing the crude business as a key driver, and expects to nearly triple its carloads carrying crude by the end of 2015. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers – Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby group – projects Western Canadian crude exports by rail in the final quarter of 2013 to be nearly triple what it was in the third quarter of 2012.

Oil transported by rail has been in the national media’s spotlight recently because of this sharp growth rate, and because of a string of recent derailments spilling crude oil. CP’s latest spill occurred May 21st outside Jansen, Saskatchewan ; on April 3rd, near White River, Ontario, a CP derailment spilled more than 65,500 litres.

Given these trends, will the Robson Valley see an increase of oil on rail sent through its communities?  Is rail a safer option than pipeline?  Will the communities be consulted or informed about the increase transportation of crude oil (a dangerous good, as defined by Transportation Canada) through their communities?

Crude through the Robson Valley?

Stephen Harper, making a public pitch for the Kestyone XL Pipeline in NYC earlier this month, said he thinks the facts are “overwhelmingly” on the side of approval, according to a CBC story. Harper said he was confident oil from the tar sands would be sent to the US Gulf Coast, if not by pipeline then by rail.

The sentiment of rail being an alternative to pipelines is echoed by BC media mogul David Black, whose company Kitimat Clean Ltd. proposes to build a refinery near Kitimat which would be designed specifically to process heavy crude from Alberta’s tar sands.

“If BC remains set against a pipeline the oil will come to the refinery by rail,” Black wrote in a proposal presentation to the BC Chamber of Commerce in March.  “CN and the oil companies are keen on this.”

Black’s proposed refinery could handle the entire volume of the Northern Gateway Pipeline: over 500,000 barrels a day.

In a phone interview Black confirmed that he’s been in early conversations with CN to transport 400,000-500,000 barrels a day. But his preference is for a pipeline.

“Experts say the pipeline is safer.”

Black recently received the backing of China’s largest bank for his $25-billion proposal, expressed support from Christy Clark and has an agreement with the BC government for 3,000 hectares of Crown land, according to both Black’s press releases and various news articles. If Black’s proposal is to becomes a reality, that could mean 12 more trains a day through the Robson Valley (six northbound and six southbound), Black said.

According to the CN customer service line, the daily number of trains coming through the Valley is currently 40-45.

Black said small towns along the CN route with level crossings would rue having 12 more trains running through every day.

“Obviously there’s more disruptions for people with those level crossings,” Black said on the phone. “Valemount fits that description, I’ve been through there myself on the train a few times.”

Black’s project has been dismissed by some people as lacking support from the major energy companies in Alberta. But in a Financial Post article on June 1, Black responded to the lack of interest from Alberta for his proposed refinery: “I don’t need them to put their money up, and I don’t need their expertise. I can get the money elsewhere and I can buy the expertise.”

Another ambitious project currently under development, by a company called G7G, proposes to build a new rail line from Fort McMurray to just outside Fairbanks, Alaska, where heavy crude from Alberta could then be piped to Valdez.  G7G was awarded $1.8-million from the Alberta government in May, according to a press release on their website, to conduct further research. Although G7G’s proposed route would go north of the Valley, the scope of its ambition points to an increase of oil flowing from Alberta to the West Coast, one way or another. And the exponential growth of CN and CP transports in crude oil –forecasted into the foreseeable future – means that protesting pipelines, whether Northern Gateway or Trans Mountain, may do little to slow the flow of oil down.

Greg Stringham, VP of Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said rail companies are currently investigating options to move crude by rail to the West Coast. “We have been removing what we use for diluent from the West Coast into Western Canada already, so [rail companies] have the facilities in place, but I don’t think they’re using them yet,” Stringham said.

Mark Hallman, media spokesman for CN, said there are no fixed plans to transport heavy crude from Alberta to the West Coast at this time.

Hallman notes, however, that CN started testing movement specifically of crude oils in 2010; in 2011 they moved around 5,000 car loads of crude oil, then in 2012 they moved more than 30,000 car loads of crude oil to various North American markets.

“We believe the company has the scope to double that scope of business in 2013.”

“Our corporate policy is not to engage in speculation,” Hallmann added.

CP Rail is already transporting 5,000-8,000 barrels per day to the Burnaby refinery, Ray Lord, manager of public and government affairs at the refinery said.

“We’ve just initiated deliveries here by crude, started in late May … given the fact that the pipeline is over subscribed.”

Any options involving CN rail transporting crude to the west coast would inevitably involve the Robson Valley, through which the CN line runs.

Safety of crude transport by rail questioned by transportation safety agencies

The safety of rail cars to transport crude oil has been harshly criticized in Canada as well as the US.

An American Press story published late last year revealed that over two-thirds of the continental fleet uses a model called DOT-111 to transport dangerous goods.  DOT-111’s are easily recognizable by their soda-bottle-shape and wide-range use across the continent. And an email correspondence between Greepeace Canada and Transportation Canada – shared with The Goat – verified the same is true in Canada; perhaps even more so. But transportation safety agencies on both sides of the border acknowledge serious safety flaws.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board released an investigation in 2009 of a 1994 derailment, stating, “The susceptibility of 111 tank cars to release product at derailment and impact is well documented. The transport of a variety of the most hazardous products in such cars continues.” The American National Transportation Safety Board conducted an investigation of a 2009 CN derailment and fire, noting “that DOT-111 tank cars have a high incidence of tank failures during accidents … This accident demonstrates the need for extra protection …”

Hallman points out that rail cars are not owned by CN, but owned by shippers or rail leasing companies.

“The standards of the cars are set by regulators such as Transport Canada or the US Federal Railroad Administration … and then car manufactures comply with those standards.”

But despite transportation safety agencies making safety recommendations in both countries on the use of DOT-111’s, the rail industry has resisted the costly changes, according to a number of news reports.

“The tanker companies, they’re not allowed to build tankers like this anymore,” Keith Stewart, a climate change campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, said. “What [the rail industry has] successfully done is to have the old ones grandfathered so that they don’t have to retrofit them to be safer.”

But Hallman says “rail transportation is highly regulated by the federal government. CN complies with existing regulation.”

The American rail industry made a similar proposal to the US National Transportation Safety Board, leaving 30,000-45,000 cars carrying dangerous goods out of their plan to increase rail safety. The proposal is currently being considered by the US Department of Transportation—a process that could take several years. In the meantime, DOT-111’s that have been proven susceptible to rupture upon derailment continue to be used to transport dangerous goods across North America.

War of numbers, nobody winning

The pipeline and rail industries are currently fighting a war of numbers to prove which mode of transportation is safer, with both industries claiming numbers are on their side. Most analysts agree, however, that while derailments are more frequent than pipeline leaks, lower volumes are usually released and are immediately known, while pipeline leaks can spill far higher volumes, may go undetected longer, and may occur in more remote areas, slowing response times.

Which is better for the Robson Valley?

Residents won’t be asked on the rail option because rail companies don’t face the same obstacles of regulation as pipelines do, including public consultation, according to a briefing note obtained by the Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act last October and reported in a CBC story. Transport Canada officials acknowledged the lack of hurdles facing transport of crude by rail, compared to pipelines, but marine terminals and tanker traffic would still be subject to environmental assessments, according to the story.

When asked if CN conducts public consultation on its proposals to transport crude to the west coast, Hallman said, “No that’s not the case. CN has been shipping various petroleum and chemical products for over a hundred years, in terms of the predecessors of the company.”

Another alternative

With the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion plans progressing, and the Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review expected to reach a conclusion by December, the future of oil flowing through Robson Valley – by either rail or pipe – is very much at a crossroads.  But for Stewart, who has campaigned against climate change for over a decade, his perfect world is markedly different than David Black’s.

“The solution to the tar sands can’t be found in the tar sands,” Stewart said. “There’s no technology you can use in the tar sands that can fix the problem…the only way to fix it is that carbon has to stay in the ground.”

“I have sympathy for that myself,” Black said when asked for his response to Stewart’s quote.  “But it’s not feasible today to do away with oil…so we have to be pragmatic about this. We have to move from where we are today to a different place in time.”

“Before we knew about climate change,” Stewart said, “fossil fuels had greatly improved the quality of life, but now they’re putting all of those improvements at risk. What people need is energy, not oil, and we need to make that shift.”

“It’s a worry for everybody,” Black said, “because CO2 emissions are ramping up, not ramping down.”

Cougar stare-down in Valemount ends peacefully

Leath-Anne Kettle is still in disbelief after a 20-minute run-in with a cougar in Valemount last Tuesday May 28th.

“It’s one of those surreal things, when you don’t really believe it’s happening,” Kettle said.

She was walking up Dogwood Street from 17th Avenue just after 9pm when the cougar crossed the road about 20 feet in front of her. A children’s playground and baseball park, John Osadchuck Diamond, is just up the street from where Kettle encountered the cougar.

“It just sat down and stared at me,” she said. The stare-off lasted about 20 minutes, Kettle said. “I was scared at first, but then I calmed down.”

Kettle said she eventually called a friend who drove over to meet her. The approaching car scared off the cougar.

The Prince George Conservation Officer did not return calls from The Goat, but the BC Ministry of Environment’s Conservation Officer Service website offers the following information on cougar encounters:

Stay calm. Sudden movements can scare the cougar into attacking. Back away slowly and make yourself as large as possible. Do not run.

If a cougar shows interest in you, react aggressively. Maintain eye contact; show your teeth, growl. Arm yourself with weapons (e.g. sticks, stones) .

If a cougar attacks, fight back. Convince the cougar you are not helpless but a formidable prey choice. Aim for the eyes and the face, if it comes down to an attack.

Let neighbours know, and be aware of pets that may have gone missing: a sure sign that a cougar is making use of your neighbourhood.

Cougars seem to be attracted to the loud noises and erratic movement of children.

Although cougar encounters can be terrifying, Kettle said it’s important not to get scared.

“I’m not scared now or anything,” she said. “If I let that scare me, I’d never go anywhere.”

That said, it’s smart to be prepared and to take precautions.

For more information visit the Conservation Officer Service’s website at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/index.htm.

The cat came back (more cougar sightings in Valemount)

“There’s that cat again,” Braden Hutchins said when he saw a cougar for the second time on June 6.

It was around 6:30pm and he was standing with a group of people on the deck of the Kenkel’s ranch on Cranberry Lake Road.

The cougar was a few hundred yards away, across a field and crossing the road, going in the opposite direction from the group.

Hutchins had seen a cougar earlier in the day, only a few properties away from the Kenkel’s lot, while driving on Pine Road, around 2:30pm.

“The first thing I did was call the neighbours to let them know,” said Riette Kenkel, also standing on the deck at the time of the sighting.

Todd Hunter, a Prince George conservation officer who oversees the Robson Valley said there have been no reports of abnormal or offending behaviour from any cougars, but they are monitoring the area.

“Offending or abnormal behaviour would mean walking down a main street in the middle of the day, going from house to house, or repeatedly coming into town,” he said.

Hunter said at this point he has only received third party information.

“We need people who actually witness the event to report it, to substantiate allegations. Third party information doesn’t give us adequate information to respond.”

Hunter said cougars will follow the path of least resistance, following ATV or snowmobile trails through the woods. Cougar sightings are more frequent in the winter months, Hunter said, when food is scarce. Hunter stressed the need for people to report sightings to aid in his monitoring.

To report a sighting, call the Prince George Conservation Services Office at 1-877-952-7277.